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Ghosts of Sandusky's dreams haunt empty home where his charity was born

Hannah Rappleye/NBC News

The vacant big white house on Bernel Road in State College, Pa., shown here in November 2011, was the first home of The Second Mile charity founded by Jerry Sandusky to help disadvantaged kids.

STATE COLLEGE, Pa. -- Those who know the house on Bernel Road will tell you it’s behind Beaver Stadium, near the airport on the outskirts of town -- a town still trying to piece itself together in the wake of one of the biggest scandals in college football history.

The two-story white colonial home represents the past, and future, of The Second Mile, a charity founded by Jerry Sandusky. It was on this land that Sandusky first realized his dream to create an organization for disadvantaged children. Until last November, it was also to be the home of The Second Mile’s most ambitious project to date — a multimillion-dollar “Center for Excellence” intended to help those kids pursue big dreams.

Instead, it now sits quiet and empty on the edge of about 60 acres of overturned earth, a reminder of the crushed aspirations attributable to a criminal case unfolding less than a dozen miles to the north.

The fate of The Second Mile is inextricably linked to that of Sandusky, the 68-year-old former Penn State assistant football coach now on trial on 51 counts of sexually abusing 10 young boys over a15-year period.  

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And the existence of the well-respected charity cuts to the heart of the central question in the criminal case: Was it the life’s work of a man who genuinely cared about the well-being of disadvantaged kids, or merely a cover for his illicit appetites?

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Last week, eight of the alleged victims -- two remain unknown to prosecutors -- offered tearful testimony in a small-town courthouse in Bellefonte, Pa., about the sexual abuse they say they endured at the hands of Sandusky.

Sandusky’s defense began presenting its case on Monday, calling several former coaching colleagues and others as character witnesses.

'He's a saint'
Sandusky’s reputation as a man devoted to helping kids served as protection when questions about his character arose.

During the first week of his trial, one of Sandusky’s alleged victims testified that school authorities did not believe him when he first reported the sexual abuse in 2008. Known as “Victim 1” in the indictment against Sandusky, the 18-year-old recent high school graduate testified that a school official told him and his mother, “Jerry wouldn’t do something like that,” and that they needed to “think about it” before they reported it to Children and Youth Services.

“They didn’t believe me,” the teenager said tearfully.

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Joe Miller, a former wrestling coach at Central Mountain High School, which “Victim 1” attended, said in court that he didn’t think twice about seeing Jerry Sandusky lying next to the young boy on the floor of an athletic room one day after school in 2006 or 2007. “I thought, ‘It's Jerry Sandusky,’” Miller testified. “’He's a saint. What he's doing with these kids, it's fantastic,’ so I didn’t think anything of it.”

That faith in Sandusky’s character came from his work with The Second Mile, which he founded in 1977. In his autobiography, “Touched: The Jerry Sandusky Story” -- a book which helped prosecutors find some of his alleged victims -- he wrote that he initially envisioned the charity as a home for foster children. Sandusky and his wife, Dottie, who were unable to have children themselves, had been foster parents to at least three children and adopted five others -- including a girl, Kara -- during the 1970s.

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As their expanding brood made it impossible to foster more children, Sandusky has said, he decided instead to start a foster home. He gathered powerful friends and acquaintances from Penn State and the surrounding community to help him.

Sales from his football book, “Developing Linebackers,” provided the seed money, along with donations and celebrity golf tournaments that would soon become an annual affair. In 1981, The Second Mile bought a 20-acre plot on Bernel Road for $64,000. The next year, the state licensed The Second Mile to serve as a private foster care agency. 

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By October 1982, at least three foster children – all boys, ages 10 to 18 -- lived in the house. An article in The Daily Collegian, the Penn State newspaper, described a typical day: Doing chores, playing games and going on picnics with the house parents, a couple chosen by Sandusky and The Second Mile. Each resident had a member of the Penn State football team as a mentor.

In 1983, The Second Mile hired Jack Raykovitz, who had recently finished his Ph.D. in school psychology at Penn State. In its early days, Raykovitz ran the day-to-day operations of the charity, which included week-long camps -- first for boys, then also for girls -- on the Penn State campus. He signed off on licensing documents for the foster care agency. For a short time, state records show, he also provided psychological counseling to some of the foster children.

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Raykovitz would continue to head the program for almost 30 years. By the time he stepped down in November, he and his wife, Katherine Genovese -- who served as executive vice president -- were earning a combined salary of over $230,000 a year.

Raykovitz did not respond to requests for comment from NBC News, but in a statement issued at the time of his resignation, he said, "I hope that my resignation brings with it the beginning of that restoration of faith in the community of volunteers and staff that, along with the children and families we serve, are The Second Mile.”

In 1988, records show the charity stopped actively operating as a foster care agency, but it kept its license active through 2011.

The Second Mile Grows
During the late 1980s, The Second Mile grew from an organization focused on a few foster children to a large network of programs offering services to thousands of children annually.

Each year, more than a thousand families attended picnics and events at local amusement parks and farms hosted by The Second Mile for foster children and parents. Several hundred families a year received counseling, assistance and money for “personal items.” Schools received Second Mile trading cards with facts about Penn State football players and tips on how to handle bullying, achieve in school -- even practice good hygiene.

By the late 1990s, The Second Mile children had become known simply as “Jerry’s kids.” He appeared at fundraisers, football games and other events, usually accompanied by one or more children.

Second Mile’s week-long Summer Challenge Camp had by that time become the centerpiece of the organization, serving more than 500 children each year. Attendance was usually recommended by school counselors, who singled out children that had trouble in school or came from single-parent homes or other disadvantaged backgrounds. Teenage boys and girls from high schools near Second Mile Chapters volunteered as counselors and mentors.

It was through the camps, many alleged victims testified last week, that they first met Sandusky.

At the camps, usually held on the Penn State campus, young Second Mile participants swam, played games, and practiced football drills. They stayed in Penn State housing.

“Victim 4,” according to the indictment, now 28, testified that he met Sandusky in 1997 in a Penn State dorm during the camp. “The roommate I was staying with knew Jerry Sandusky somehow, and he had come to the room to talk to him,” he said. Later, he testified, Sandusky told him he was a coach for Penn State and invited him to a family picnic.

“Probably a week or two” later, he said, “He called me again.”

The connection to football – both the charity’s and Sandusky’s -- was a particular draw for young Penn State fans. “I went up to him,” testified “Victim 6,” a 25-year-old man who recently graduated from Bible college. “Anything to do with Penn State I just wanted to be a part of it. I was a huge football fan.” 

Sizing up boys?
Prosecutors introduced evidence they said showed that Sandusky was sizing up the boys who attended the camp as well. Among the exhibits: Rosters of male participants in the summer camps, with phone numbers and addresses. Next to the names of some of the alleged victims, which were marked with one or two asterisks, were handwritten notes about clothing and shoe sizes. A handful of other names, not among the alleged victims in the case, also were asterisked. A few others had question marks.

Of the hundreds of kids who attended the camp over the years, many left happy.

“It was a very good experience for me, and it actually did help build my esteem and self-confidence,” said Douglas Spengler, now 30, who went to the camps in State College in the mid-’90s. Spengler said Sandusky would show up once a session, usually for a group activity. “I never saw anything that made me uncomfortable in any way,” he added.

Spengler later received scholarships from The Second Mile that helped cover his two years at Pennsylvania College of Technology. News of the Sandusky investigation made him think of the impact on an organization that had done right by him. “Honestly, I thought it was a shame for the program,” he said. “You can’t judge a program based on one person.”

Mark Makela / Reuters

The Second Mile, the charity founded by Jerry Sandusky, is moving to dissolve itself and transfer its assets to a Texas-based nonprofit.

Several of the alleged victims described getting a call from Sandusky after meeting him through The Second Mile. He would pick them up at home. Seven out of eight testified that Sandusky first put his hand on their knee or thigh when they got into his car to go to a Penn State football game, to Holuba Hall on the Penn State Campus to work out, or to Sandusky’s house.

In 1998, “Victim 6,” then 11, came home with his hair wet. According to his testimony, he told his mother that had showered with Sandusky. That sparked an investigation by campus police, Children and Youth Services, the Centre County agency that investigates child abuse, and the state Welfare Department.

The investigation was closed, but NBC News reported in March that one psychologist warned investigators that Sandusky was a “likely pedophile.” But a second psychologist who had worked with the local Centre County Child and Youth Services, which had licensed Sandusky as a foster parent, concluded after an hour-long meeting with the alleged victim, concluded that no sexual offense had taken place nor was there “grooming” or “inappropriate sexual behavior” by Sandusky.

That same year, at least six children -- three boys and three girls -- in their early teens were living at the house on Bernel Road.

Todd Keith spent about two years as the resident director at the house in the late 1990s. “Sandusky would come to the house probably once a month,” Keith told NBC News last fall. “Sometimes for photo ops, other times it would be just to interact with the kids and stuff.”

Though he thought little of it at the time, Keith remembered the boys tended to shy away from Sandusky, retreating to their basement bedrooms when he stopped in. “At the time I truly just thought it was adolescent boys not wanting to be around adults,” he said. After hearing the initial allegations, Keith wondered if he hadn’t missed something.

None of the alleged victims who testified against Sandusky lived in the house on Bernel Road.

After the Nittany Lions
In July 1999, Sandusky announced that the upcoming season would be his last. That September, he incorporated Sandusky Associates, Inc. with his son Jon, who had just graduated from Penn State.

In the summer of 2000, they started a series of  four-day, three-night football camp for boys at Albright College in Reading, Penn, where Sandusky’s son E.J. was head football coach.

The camps continued until about 2009 and were held at various sites, including Penn State satellite campuses.

Sandusky’s last game as Penn State defensive coordinator came in the December 1999 Alamo Bowl in Texas. According to testimony, he took one of the boys – a 15-year-old “fixture in the Sandusky household” identified in the indictment as “Victim 4”  -- with him to that game.

At the trial, “Victim 4” described some of the most serious sexual abuse of any of the alleged victims, which he said occurred before he began to distance himself from Sandusky around 2001 or 2002. 

To support his testimony, the prosecution presented "contracts" obtained in searches of the Sanduskys' home and his office. Some of the contracts asked “Victim 4” to agree to attend Second Mile programs, sports and workouts in exchange for money and other favors.

Other witnesses called by the prosecution raised questions about some of the programs. Mark McCann, who directed programming for The Second Mile, testified that several of the contracts, including one that asked “Victim 4 to commit to The Second Mile's "Positive Action Program," were for programs that never existed.

The defense later called a witness who said that at least one program not associated with The Second Mile, called “GOLF for L.I.F.E,” did exist for a short time, but she remembered few details about how children might have been enrolled.

After retiring, Sandusky’s involvement with The Second Mile grew. So did the organization’s coffers. Sandusky was paid at least $399,000 since 2001 as a consultant, tax records from the organization show. Assets grew from $2.5 million in 2001 to nearly $9.2 million by August 2009.

Over the years, powerful men and women in Centre County, and beyond, volunteered for the charity or joined its board of directors, helping to launch programs and raise money. The charity became nearly synonymous with Penn State. It held fundraisers across the state, including golf tournaments at the Toftrees Hotel, attended by star athletes, university officials and Centre County power brokers.

In September 2001, seven months after Mike McQueary testified that he told Penn State officials he saw Sandusky abusing a boy in a Penn State locker room, the university’s Board of Trustees approved the sale of university land to Sandusky’s charity. In April 2002, the $168,500 sale went through, and The Second Mile had 40 acres of land adjacent to the house on Bernel Road to fulfill one of Sandusky’s dreams.

Center for Excellence
In November 2008, as investigators were looking into the allegations made by “Victim 1,” Sandusky informed The Second Mile that he was under investigation, according to a statement from the organization.

From that point forward, Second Mile said Sandusky had “no involvement with Second Mile programs involving children.” But he remained active at Second Mile events. According to a local newspaper, he was still slated to speak at a Second Mile fundraising banquet in February 2009 geared toward local families. Sandusky formally stepped down in 2010, saying he wanted to spend more time with family.

By that time, The Second Mile was focused on raising money to fund the $11.5 million dollar “Center for Excellence.” Sandusky envisioned it as a “permanent home” for Second Mile children, with an athletic and recreation center featuring two basketball courts, a pool, football fields, classrooms and dormitories for the summer camp. It was to be both privately and publicly funded. In the summer of 2011, the organization received a $3 million dollar state grant for construction from Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Corbett. His administration rescinded the funding after charges against Sandusky became public.

Robert Poole, chairman of The Second Mile board for 17 years and president and CEO of Poole Anderson Construction, was awarded the contract to serve as construction manager of the project. His firm had previously overseen the construction of many Penn State projects, including renovations of  the university's Beaver Stadium.

In November, allegations of sexual abuse by Sandusky rocked the world of sports, and Centre County. The Second Mile found itself embroiled in scandal and facing multiple lawsuits. Its future unclear, the organization halted construction on the Center for Excellence.

Then, this spring, The Second Mile announced it would transfer its programs to the Arrow Child & Family Ministries Inc., a Texas-based nonprofit, and begin the process to eventually dissolve itself.

Hannah Rappleye/NBC News

The basketball hoop at the first Second Mile house on Bernel Road in State College, Pa. The area behind the house was cleared for construction on Jerry Sandusky's $11.5 million, 60-acre

As the trial of Jerry Sandusky nears its conclusion it’s unclear what will happen to the land on Bernel Road.

Acres of overturned earth still surround the white house. A sign advertises the sale of the 60 acres. But remnants of the children who once lived there are visible to this day:  a sheaf of colored construction paper in the garage, a set of monkey bars, and two white hands painted on the blacktop driveway, fingers bent to form the sign language message, “I love you.”

Michael Isikoff, NBC News national investigative correspondent, contributed to this report.